HC Deb 25 April 1977 vol 930 cc698-700
5. Mr. Mike Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he will now make a statement on the outcome of his consultations on the Central Policy Review Staff Report on the electrical power plant industry.

The Secretary of State for Industry (Mr. Eric G. Varley)

I expect to be in a position to make an announcement shortly.

Mr. Thomas

Will my right hon. Friend give me two categorical assurances? First, is the option of placing the Drax B order with Parsons and telling GEC that it will get no orders until it co-operates with the Government's plan for a national company still firmly open? Secondly, will my right hon. Friend underwrite the assurances given by the Reyrolle Parsons management to the workers at C. A. Parsons that it will not engage in discussions with GEC without the workers' agreement? May we have an assurance from my right hon. Friend that he will not put the Reyrolle Parsons management in the position where it has to pursue that course?

Mr. Varley

I am not in a position to give any kind of specific assurance this afternoon one way or the other. I can only tell my hon. Friend that the negotiations are extremely difficult. He will know as well as I do, having read the CPRS Report, that it is essential that there should be some restructuring of the heavy electrical plant industry. Negotiations so far have been extremely difficult, and I am bound to tell my hon. Friend that his statement during the past few days has not helped the position.

Mr. Budgen

Will the Minister tell the House whether any promise was given to GEC when it agreed to make available to the Meriden Motor Cycle Co-operative both financial and marketing assistance? Was GEC told at that time that it would be given a favourable position in relation to other deals with the Government?

Mr. Varley

That is a figment of the hon. Gentleman's imagination. As I understand it—I did not take part in the detailed negotiations that took place arising out of the Meriden report, but my right hon. Friend did—the two issues were never discussed together.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Will my right hon. Friend at least give an assurance that it is intended that there should be a major contribution by the National Enterprise Board in any agreement that is reached? Can he say what effect it will have upon the railroad plant which is also involved?

Mr. Varley

The National Enterprise Board has been involved in the discussions to which I have already referred and has played a leading part.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Will the Secretary of State give one assurance—that in reaching his final decision he will bear in mind not only the opinions of the National Union of Mineworkers and of those working for Parsons in Newcastle, important though they be, but the interests of the consumers of electricity, who would have to foot the bill if we ordered excess power stations?

Mr. Varley

I do not have ministerial responsibility for the electricity supply industry. I refer the hon. Gentleman to page 84 of the CPRS Report, which says: The absolutely essential condition for maintaining a viable power plant industry in the country in the long term is a firm contractual commitment by the CEGB to a steady ordering programme. I think that that is what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy is trying to secure.

Mr. Conlan

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if the newspaper reports of the last few days are only half true the Government will face a vast industrial and political backlash in the North-East? Will he bring to a speedy end the consideration of the CPRS Report, go ahead with ordering Drax and ensure that Parsons obtains the turbine generator order?

Mr. Varley

Questions about the CEGB and the Drax Power Station and matters of that kind must be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. My hon. Friend knows that. I know of his concern and that of my other hon. Friends about preserving jobs. That is a factor that we have in mind in considering these questions. But wild and inaccurate statements from any source, many of them misconceived and mischievous as well as wildly inaccurate, only add to the Government's difficulties.